It is with substantial pride that I look forward to the opening of Shanghai Disney Resort on 16 June. Eight years ago, I was proud to be part of the initial research team (with Magdalena Wong) to prepare Disney’s discussion with the Shanghai City government. As part of these initial projects, I remember showing focus-group participants mockups of the park's design, and seeing unrestrained excitement and anticipation.
To say Disney has strong brand equity in China is bordering on ludicrous understatement. Disney is one of the few international brands to enjoy an inter-generational fan base. As early as 1986, the “Mickey and Donald Show” was shown on state broadcaster CCTV (China Central Television). Since that time, Chinese families have consistently consumed the characters and stories of Disney, in both official and pirated forms.
From June 2016, the stage is set for Disney to make a unique commercial and cultural impact. Many businesses in China will be faced with a contagion effect caused by Disney’s official landing. As Disney raises the bar to new heights, so too will brands across different categories related to entertainment and education.
Tourism: The new exemplar
Disney will bring an uncompromised version of its brand experience to Shanghai, thus the slightly delayed opening. There will be two hotels, the art nouveau-inspired Shanghai Disneyland Hotel and a Pixar-themed Toy Story Hotel, delivering a culture of ‘Disney stayovers’.
This will undoubtedly prove popular with families, but also newlyweds. As of 1 January, the Chinese government has cancelled the ‘late wedding leave’ that originally gave China’s 25-somethings a 30-day paid leave. In this context, foreign travel seems too rushed, and Shanghai’s Disney Resort will pop up naturally as a sufficiently global alternative.
Other travel brands are likely to be compared with Disney. New expectations will be created from attendance at the Disney Resort but also through official and user-generated publicity. As more people share Cinderella-Castle selfies, Disney will become a 'must-do' family and couple activity, creating a behavioural exemplar that snowballs virally.
Unless brands develop a strategic response to the Disney effect, they face the possibility of being considered a ‘compromise’ by local families.
Disney education: Don't get schooled
Disney’s arrival in June will also expand the experiential expectation of Chinese families in terms of educational content. The contagion effect will be felt from Lego to private-school providers. As Chinese parents strive to provide their children spontaneous moments to counteract the high-pressure school curriculums, Disney Resort provides a ready-made emotional elixir.
While Disney is already present in China as an educational brand, the Shanghai opening will embed the brand’s educational philosophy more comprehensively. Chinese families will gravitate to Disney as an essential ‘family album’ activity and look to immortalise this memory through continued engagement with the brand—through educational resources, mementos, toys, books, films and digital activities.
Brands competing for the attention of families will have to strategise how best to cut through the Disney ‘crush’. Higher levels of interactivity and storytelling will define a new post-Disney benchmark for education providers. Disney’s inter-generational appeal locally will also challenge brands to better provide a context for parents to participate in the educational experiences of their children.
Disney moments, framed and displayed prominently within the family’s home and digital spaces, will potentially serve as harmonising and soothing moments for both generations—a powerful proof point of responsible, modern parenting.
The challenge for Disney will be to leverage its substantial cultural capital to ensure the brand is far more than 'keeping up with the Joneses' family selfie.To take this historic opportunity, Disney must create an evolving relationship with Chinese families, one that engenders loyalty and sustained connection to the brand’s fairy tales.
As Shanghai Disney Resort’s grand opening dawns, success and survival will hinge on how passionate brands are about telling their own stories, when faced with the arrival of one of the most universally loved stories of all time.
|Jerry Clode is head of digital and social insight at Resonance China.|